Women's Golfers Eye Upward Mobility

By Tony Lane
March 2001
Originally Published in the Vanderbilt Flagship

One's of baseball immortal Satchel Paige's rules for life reads, "Don't look back; someone might be gaining on you."

Attention, collegiate golf elite -- that rule is directed toward you. And Vanderbilt's women's team is that someone who's closer than they
appear in your rearview mirror.

Two top-5 team finishes in the first four tournaments of this season have propelled the Commodores to number 19 in the latest Golfweek.com poll.

As Vanderbilt embarks on its spring slate of tournaments, opening at Florida's Lady Gator Invitational February 23-25, first-year coach Martha Freitag insists that her squad is here to stay nationally.

"Where we're ranked, I don't even think we've played our best golf yet. I really feel like the best is yet to come for us," said Freitag. "We turned a lot of heads this fall, and that was a lot of fun. For us to beat a lot of the teams that we beat this fall, they're not used to being beaten by Vanderbilt. And my feeling is, I hope they get used to it." Instinctively, Freitag at once highlights and downplays the significance of Vanderbilt's early exposure among the nation's elite programs. "I don't think we're ever going to have huge galleries in college golf. I think we'd be kidding ourselves if we thought that," Freitag surmised. "But I think increased awareness happens when you start playing better, because people want to write about you. When you're ranked 51st, nobody cares what you're doing. Now all of a sudden you get ranked in the Top 25, and people start to pay attention.

"I'm excited about the rankings, because we're going in the right direction, but the rankings are only relevant to the point to helping us recruit and also helping us get invited to the NCAA tournament." Freitag has been busier than Casey Martin's cart driver since her undergraduate days as a two-sport star at Stanford. She's served as an assistant coach at her alma mater and the University of Texas, headed the Boise State program for a year, and played on the LPGA Tour for two seasons. Freitag was attracted to Vanderbilt's revitalized administration and its limitless potential.

"It's a great fit for me," said Freitag of her newest post. "To me it was the challenge to build something. I felt like everything was in place here in terms of the right people, with Todd Turner and Chancellor Gee. Especially at a private institution you've got to have a chancellor or president that understands the relationship that athletics and academics can have."

Something special was afoot for the Commodores when they kicked off the 2000-01 season with a surprising fourth-place finish at Auburn's Tiger-Derby Invitational. That event was also a coming-out party of sorts for sophomore Nicki Cutler, who shot a season and team-low 69 on the second day and finished fourth herself. Cutler has sliced five strokes from her per-round average of 80.25 from a year ago and has qualified as the biggest surprise of the young campaign.

"She's very level on the golf course. Nothing rattles her," Freitag said of Cutler. "She doesn't get super excited about birdies, and she doesn't get down about bogeys, which is a great mentality for golf. If she hits a bad shot. . . it's like she's done with it and on with the next shot."

Junior Meredith Ward has also played outstanding golf this season, but her consistency was expected; she was named Second Team All-SEC and won Vanderbilt's first-ever individual title at Tulane last season. Freshman Sarah Jacobs, a product of Nashville's Davidson Academy, is not only producing great rounds on the course, but may be a conduit for future local recruiting by Freitag and her staff.

"I want to pay particular attention to the state of Tennessee, because it's always great to get kids like Sarah Jacobs, and Joanie Gossett," said Freitag. "They'll bring a little more recognition; people can identify with them, they've seen them in the paper, they've seen them in high school matches.

"I'm going to recruit the state, but I'm also going to go after the very best kids in the country. We're not going to sell ourselves short." Gossett, out of Germantown, and Veronica Yatko (Monroe, LA) are Vanderbilt's two signees for 2001-2 and illustrate Freitag's recruiting strategy. Gossett in particular should sparkle out of the gate for the Commodores.

"By her sophomore year here, there's going to be a lot of teams across the country that will be saying, 'Oops, should have signed her,'" said Freitag of Gossett. "She just can't wait to come here and be a part of this success."

So, is it too early for the perennial top-10 programs like Duke and Arizona to be taking a peek over their shoulders, looking for the Commodores' advancing fleet? Freitag doesn't discount the possibility.

"Do we have enough talent? Yeah, but we've got to get accustomed to being there, and this is still so new to these kids. My feeling now is this is not the Vanderbilt team of old. We are nobody's doormat. Nobody's wiping their feet on us.

"We're going to be a Top-10 team. We're going to be a team that, instead of asking for invitations, we're going to turn down invitations."


Vanderbilt Athletic Department
2601 Jess Neely Drive
Nashville, TN 37212
615-322-GOLD (4653)